Back from the break

Last winter California's Ricky Whitlock broke his back while surfing Pipeline. It's been a long road to recovery, but he's back in the water and charging harder than ever.

Last year after Kieren Perrow won the Pipe Masters he was covered in scrapes and cuts. The toll for victory came in the form of flesh on the reef.

Watching the "best of the best" take lumps at Pipeline over the weekend durfing the Pipe Masters it's easy to become desensitized to the carnage and beat downs. Webcast commentators giggle and half-heartedly say, "Lets see if he comes up." It's not much different than NASCAR. For every person that's watching to see a race well won there are dozens others that are screaming for twisted metal.

But to borrow a line from Theodor Geisel, "Things can happen and often do." Last January, on a big but not out-of-control day, Ricky Whitlock was slammed onto the reef at Pipeline and broke his back. He could very easily have drowned. Others have. He could have been paralyzed. That's happened there too. But whether by divine design or random happenstance, Whitlock survived. Lifeguards and paramedics responded impeccably, he received immediate medical attention, spent most of the last year rehabbing, and is now not only back in the water, but charging harder than ever.

"I was lucky," he says. "Plain and simple, I was lucky."

It could have been worse, he knows that full well, and thusly he's rededicated himself to his surfing. "It could have been taken away forever, I could never have ridden another wave."

Long, lonely runs, time in the pool, time in the gym, time in the hospital forced him to reevaluate: "Surfing's the most important thing, it's given me everything."

He already has a session at Jaws under his belt this year, and is on point for more should the ocean cooperate. "I'm not taking anything for granted, this is it."

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